Quality of representation, a bane to Nigeria development
One of the factors that determine growth and development in a democratic government is based on the quality and the commitment representatives elected to coordinate the political affairs of the electorate.
In most advanced countries, where democratic government is driving force to growth and development, quality representation either in the parliament or congress, is always a significant factor on which the electorate take seriously in assessing those seeking political office.
But in the Nigerian case, the influence of money in our politics seems to be prevalent the consequence of which determines the quality of representation in public offices.
It is exactly 20 years when pro-democracy organisations, led by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) with the support of other social cultural groups, like the Southwest, Afenifere; Southeast, Ohanaeze; various organisations in the Niger Delta region of South South; the Northern Arewa Consultative Forum and some Civil Society Organisation (CSO) among others agitated against military rule to get civil government in May 29 1999 under erstwhile Military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar.
But since then, the quality of ‘elected and appointed’ representatives entrusted with the affairs of the nation through the ballot, has remained a big challenge to the development of the country.
While it is true that corruption and the 1999 Constitution have been said to be a big setback to the development of Nigeria, inept elected representatives and weak political parties are also considered as another drawback for the country since the Fourth Republic in 1999.
The belief is that Nigeria has not developed at the expected pace in spite of the great hope and aspiration when the military handed over government to the civilians 19 years ago.
Some of the principal actors involved in the democratic struggle during the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s military rule from 1993 to 1998 owned up to committing the great error of leaving the political stage to charlatans when civil rule was finally attained in 1999. The consequences of which they claimed is the socio-economic and political dilemma Nigeria is at present.
According to them, the present critical condition of the country is due to the lackadaisical attitude of the kind of politicians in government both in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to governance.
In the last 19 years, Nigeria can hardly boast of any outstanding political leaders both at the executive and the legislative arms; or the federal, state and local government levels that could match the qualities of representation of its founding fathers, who secured independence from the colonial government in 1960 to drive the First Republic.
Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has on many occasions condemned the National Assembly and also accused the legislators of corruption and ineptness, while the other in response also tackled the executive of anti-development policies, corruption and dictatorial tendencies.
In the last 19 years, it can hardly be said that the relationships between the executive and the legislative arms have translated to any positive development to the wellbeing of the Nigerian masses.
Under Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007, it was a battle to standstill, which resulted in the impeachment of three Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House. The erstwhile President Umaru Yar’Adua was brief but had its challenges while the former president; Goodluck Jonathan was marred with problems. The incumbent president, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is also not finding it easy with the National Assembly since 2015.
Unfortunately, the problems confronting the administrations are almost similar while the Nigerian masses bear the brunt.
The quality of the judiciary has also been in question since the country attained civil rule in 1999.
Some efforts were made in 1999 by some of the socio-cultural organisations to ensure that those seeking elected offices were properly screened and their background scrutinized like it used to be during the First Republic, without directly involving in party politics.
This created some level of quality representation until in the 2003 elections, when the erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), under Obasanjo reduced the ranks of the opposition in the National Assembly, particularly in the Southwest region, which created an opening for charlatans and stooges, whose loyalty was to their political ‘godfathers’ the trend continued till the 2007 elections when Obasanjo’s ‘Third Term’ agenda resulted in serious damage to the quality of Nigeria’s democracy.
The alleged monetization of the 2003 and 2007 elections also resulted in the rise of political godfathers and moneybags consequently leading to the influx of weak and uncommitted representation that later flocked the political scene.
Former Senate Minority Leader, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora said the qualities of representations appear to be progressively decreasing in the country, which he attributed to many factors particularly in the State and National Assemblies.
He said the quality of current political parties cannot be compared with the ones at the exit of the military in 1999 neither can they be placed side by side with those that were during the First and Second republics.”
To him, parties are supposed to be the vehicles through which representatives are elected but when such platforms are weak, definitely there is going to be weak representation, which is what Nigeria is facing currently.
The former senator added that monetization of the electoral process has also given room for ‘moneybags’ who now act as godfather controlling the political space.
According to him, “The political godfathers now ensure that only the pliable, surrogates and never-do-well that can be controlled are elected on the party platforms into the State and National Assembles. The godfathers are at the state and national levels.”
He cited the instances of former governors who are now senators but continue to influence politics in their states to determine who succeeds them or those elected into the State House of Assembly “this is one of the reasons every governor is desperate to ensure who succeeds them and those that become legislators in their state.
“With this development the outcome is that charlatans, never-do-well people and illiterates are been sponsored by the ‘moneybags’ to contest election while the serious ones are relegated; what do we have in return poor representation.”
Mamora also said other factors encouraging poor representation is that majority of those aspiring for political offices are themselves ready to be used as willing tools to satisfy the selfish interest of their sponsors, stressing: “they don’t even have their own opinion on issues during debate in the parliament except what their godfathers decides. Putting this into consideration, there cannot be good representation and it is governance that suffers.”
He also blamed poor representation in the democratic system on the complacency of the civil society for complacency, saying the failure of the quality and background of those seeking political offices during election is another reason any character can be elected so far he has money to throw around.
Other factors he noted were high cost running election, which he discourages those with good intentions to participate in the process.
He however suggested Nigeria should fashion a way for robust participation in democracy where ultimate power would be transferred to the people.
According to him, “Nigeria should look for a way to cut down allowances of the lawmakers and the executive and if possible to also reduce the number of legislators or make it part time affairs “this will encourage people with genuine intention to contest.”
Former governor of Old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said the current representative of the people in government is abysmally low compared with what was obtainable during the First and Second Republics. According to him, “In those days merit was the deciding factors of who becomes a parliamentarian or minister but today reverse is the case. That is one of the reasons Nigeria now parades poor, inept and careless representatives in government.
“In the earlier republics and partially from 1999 and 2003, merit is a critical factor and particularly the understanding of the contestant in national affairs, his or her integrity and popularity among the electorate. These are no more in our polity due to the undue influence wielded by money power; ironically stolen money.”
Musa added that the antecedents of most of the present elected representatives are not only questionable but majority of them seems to lack basic understanding of governance not to imagine them making constructive contributions towards the growth and the development of the nation. He said, “This is an era where ‘refined touts’ become legislators, people of little understanding and poor educations are appointed as ministers or commissioners. In my era I had 26 years in public service before being elected as governor when there are some who had better and longer experience than I. Take a look around, it would shock you to know that many of our elected officers today are strange to public service.”
Musa, who is also the leader of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), also said part of the reasons Nigeria lacks quality elected representation is because election is abnormally costly, which he also ascribed to the conspiracy of political parties, saying, “The huge nomination fees that parties demand from aspirants is also scaring good people away. At the end of the day, it is the 419 people who have access to stolen government money can afford to obtain their party’s nomination form or sponsored by their godfather.
“I recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari said he had to look for millions of naira to buy the presidential nomination form of the APC.”
To correct the anomaly, Musa advocated for free, fair and credible election and suggest that a minimum standard must at least be set for contestants.
A chieftain of Afenifere and member of the defunct Action Group (AG), Chief Ayo Adebanjo said as long as Nigeria continues to practice the same system of government “there can never be quality representation. As a matter of fact it is not possible for us to get quality people in government through the ballot because the whole electoral procedure have been compromised and bastardised.”
Adebanjo noted that the process put down by the political parties for candidates/representatives to emerge is not helping matters. He said: “This is the reason I continue to blame President Buhari, who complained he had to borrow N27 million to buy his party’s presidential nomination form but has refused to address the issue almost three years he assumed office.”
He said another factor creating opportunity for the kind of representatives the country has is the issue of bad followership and leadership. He wondered reason why good people immediately changed whenever they get into elective offices. The Afenifere leader cited the example of the incumbent Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, whom he described to have changed suddenly from what he used to know about him before joining the APC’s administration.
“The APC is a great disaster, disappointment in terms of representation because it has completely distorted quality. I am tempted to agree with the former Presidential Spokesman, Dr. Ruben Abati that there is something in Aso Rock or the National Assembly that changes good people to something else.”
But former Minister of Information and a founding member of the APC, Prince Tony Momoh differed from the previous commentators. He said that the quality of Nigeria’s elected representative is rather improving as against the negative opinions.
Although, Momoh said Nigeria democratic rule is not yet where it is expected neither has it delivered the necessary dividends in term of development and growth, to him the major reason was because those who took over as civilian administrators in 1999 “came with military mentality and experience due to the long term of military rule. There had been considerable improvements in quality if representation because the country, for the first time, has been able to sustain its democracy for 19 years after 1960 that it gained independence.
“This is as a result of the quality of the representation in place. For instance, the electoral commission has been up and doing because of its ability to get people participate in election from 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. This is an achievement. This couldn’t have happened, if the legislative arm of government has not done several amendments to the Electoral Acts and of course the executive’s inputs.
Momoh also noted that the present National Assembly has been more vocal than the previous ones. To him it is no longer money politics like before. The persistent face off between the executive and the legislature is a good example to prove my point.
He also faulted the argument that high cost of election is one of the factors encouraging poor representation. Said he, “The problem in Nigeria is because democracy is placed before development and to correct this the country does not need bi-camera and full time legislature. We also need to reduce the power of government at the centre and empower the regions. If these are done the restructuring we are clamouring for would take place automatically and it will also eliminate charlatans from our polity.”
Faulting the position of Momoh, former President of Igbo socio-cultural group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said the quality of representation in the present democratic dispensation is nothing to write about “because they have not only failed the country but also disappointed their constituencies by their conduct and lackadaisical attitude to issue of governance.”
Citing the case of the incumbent governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, the former Aka Ikenga leader said what quality of representation such a representative has demonstrated in more than two years he became governor “the reason is not far fetched other than the process that brought him into power.”
Explaining reasons quality representation has eluded Nigeria under the present dispensation, Uwazurike said majority of those in government today are either child of past leaders, friends or relatives and in most cases political stooges.
Also taking a swipe at the argument that the quality of representation is not decreasing, National Chairman, National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr Yusuf Tanko said the greatest mistake by those who fought the military to standstill to obtain democracy in 1999 was they left the stage for criminals, ‘419’, uneducated people who made laws to establish themselves economically “this alone pushed credible people to the background politically. There is no doubt that the quality of representation in government today is below what can improve the country.”